The book “Presidents and Their Decisions: Richard M. Nixon” is an assortment of essays written by many very well known social and political giants of Washington who either praised Nixon or criticized him. Nixon was a driven individual of high intelligence who emerged from humble beginnings and was willing to behave ruthlessly in order to secure power and influence.
Nixon, who took office in 1969, had an instinctive bent toward foreign affairs and was a realists who believed that the United States should pursue a foreign policy closely aligned with the country’s national interests rather than one directed mainly by ideological and moral concerns, as these had contributed to a proliferation of foreign commitments, heightened Cold War tensions and created a tendency to see the world in simplistic black and white categories. In domestic affairs, inflation was President Nixon’s most persistent economic problem.
Initially, he tried to cut federal expenditures, but the annual budget deficits of his administration grew to become the largest in history up to that time. In 1971 and 1973 the administration devalued the dollar in an attempt to achieve a balance of trade. Despite his well known to government controls, Nixon initiated his New Economic Policy, which included unprecedented peacetime controls on wages and prices. With the opportunity to appoint four Supreme Court justices, the President was able to redirect the court toward the strict constructionism he espoused.
The book details from the outset how Nixon wanted to extricate the United States from the bloodletting of Vietnam. It ended up alternating between expanding the war with intensifying the bombing campaign and by bringing about the slow withdrawal of American troops under the aegis of “Vietnamisation”. The latter was but a veil for American defeat, and despite the signing of the Paris peace accords in 1973 South Vietnam crumbled under the weight of the communist onslaught two years later. Yet the Saigon regime had been abandoned more by a congress weary of international exertions than by the White House.
The writers also go on to discuss the East West detente that was more productive. By opening the Soviet Union to Western influence, detente eroded communism’s hold on its people at home and abroad. This development would make itself felt mainly in the following decade. Arms control agreements helped to moderate the nuclear arms race and was a Cold War first. However, detente provoked particular controversy among those who held that negotiating with the Soviets was immoral and who sought with some success to impede its development. The Cold War reasserted itself with a vengeance in the late 70’s.
The book discusses the diplomatic approach to Communist China in 1972 and how it was a landmark opening in modern United States diplomatic history and gave Washington more room for diplomacy in relation to Moscow. Only Nixon, with his well established anti-communist credentials, could have engineered the opening without generating a conservative outcry in the United States. Nixon, along with Kissinger, tilted towards the repressive state of Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and was driven by calculations of Cold War geopolitics rather than by the reality that the conflict was primarily a regional one.
Among other things discussed, the tilt sullied the administration’s reputation and its credibility with the press. American complicity in the overthrow of the democratically elected, left-wing politician in Chile in 1973 was derived from exaggerated fears of the South Americans leader’s capacity to compromise American security interests. This also contradicted Washington’s traditional commitment to national self-determination.
Nixon wanted to use foreign affairs to distract the American public from the Watergate scandal and after his resignation in 1974 he had some success in rehabilitating his reputation by presenting himself as an elder statesman. In the years following his resignation, there was much controversy stemming in part from his pardon. There was question as to whether a president could pardon one who had not been convicted, whether the pardon was granted in the spirit of healing the wounds of the scandal or of patching over. Another area of controversy discussed was the question of Nixon’s alleged profit from misconduct.
This was in receiving giant sums for interviews and books. But then again wouldn’t the question of conviction come into play? The book was very interesting and gave the reader a broad perspective of the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. As well as giving the reader a more objective look at a period in American History that so many have forgotten what really happened. I found the book easy to read and would recommend this book for any layperson as well as any student interested in political science. I felt it gave a very clear picture of Richard Nixon’s presidency both attributes and faults.